Thank you. Important topic. Shaun's publication is here (and cheap): http://bwb.co.nz/books/silencing-science
I don't know what to think of this post, it is neither here nor there, I feel. There seems to be a lot of silence, no comments, is it, because people reflect on all this important stuff, or is it that they also know no answers?
We need a Commissioner for Science or so, who ensures science is allowed to play an independent role in our society, allowed to have a voice and is protected from undue or even less so unacceptable influence from the ones who pay for it. A code of independence for science and scientists is needed, that is if it does not yet exist.
Also a whistleblower legal protection must be given to those that feel they are muzzled by employers or those who pay them.
We are living in a society where we lose our fourth estate, some think we already lost it long ago, we are at risk of losing much more. A dictatorship of the vested interest carrying, the wealth owning and paymaster parties is what we have, where criticism and open opinion is no longer welcomed, and silenced, to keep the machinery of business and a compliant state running.
As for the rest I observe, the so called "left" in New Zealand is basically DEAD, it only remains "active" in a few individuals and small determined groups, who continue to fight all the crap we see happen each day. The rest of society simply no longer cares but for their own personal or vested interests, in individual, business or other terms, and an ever growing number are so marginalised, they simply are off the page, so to say, they do not seem to matter.
I was at least a bit positively impressed by Newshub for a change showing us the grim face of homelessness in Auckland, and people living in cars.
In the meantime social experiments with social impact bonds and so forth will continue, driven by an ideologically driven government who just does not want to have anyone, scientiest or not, to bother and disturb their agenda.
In a society of mercenaries, servants, slaves and otherwise wealth, asset owning, paymaster kind of bosses, who set the rules, we can expect only a further deterioration of this state of affairs we have.
There is NO reason to be proud of being a New Zealander in this year 2016, fake pride for the All Blacks and so are just desperate escapism or cheap travel in this poor condition our society is in.
But despite of my negativism, thanks Damian for your good work and this post.
We need a Commissioner for Science
That's what Hendy is saying, yes.
I was at least a bit positively impressed by Newshub for a change showing us the grim face of homelessness in Auckland, and people living in cars.
That was via The Nation this morning and a recommended watch (13m).
Check the setting where Minister Nick Smith chose to conduct his interview right afterwards.
More silencing of of science....http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU1605/S00087/axe-hanging-over-our-changing-world.htm
I don't know what to think of this post, it is neither here nor there, I feel. There seems to be a lot of silence, no comments
If there was silence for a little while it is because I didn't enable comments - that has now been changed.
I'm not sure why you thought I was on the fence here - as I say at the end, I would happily take my lead from scientists. Given the nefarious lobby groups and other anti-intellectual dangers, I agree with Shaun's implicit conclusion that scientists need to do more than simply present the facts and let others decide what to do with them.
Hopefully that's a little less neither here nor there. :)
Government pressure on scientists not to scare the public
Yeah cause such skittish creatures are sure to panic!
Paternalism at its mind numbing worst.
Should they simply present the public and the politicians with the pros and cons, the available evidence, then step away from the decision making process?
I know its a rhetorical question but NO.
This the worst thing they could do. Public conversations are by nature messy, full of misconceptions, badly informed ideas and conclusions. If facts are getting in the way of an agenda, ditch the agenda.
Please. Our futures depend on it. Individually and en masse the dialogue needs to go much... deeper? (dont know if thats the right way to describe it)
The way I look at it now is we either start cleaning up our mess or we ignore it, go extinct, and leave nature the long task of cleaning up after us. And its govt and business that needs to lead the way, not just with exhortations to eat better. Look a bit harder will you! at the machinery.
the machinery of business and a compliant state
Marc C you'll get us all labelled "commies" or anti business or some such nonsense.;-|
Such entities take it personally when they think their surgically attached bank balance or carefully constructed image is under attack. Fuck 'em
RNZ’s Our Changing World should be required listening,
This way Up is also a great window into current developments in science as it affects the world we live in.
Sad to live in a country that would marginalise or exterminate ‘OCW’ but enable John Key's 'my way or th ehighway' approach and fund Mike Hosking and his sneering anti-science venom.
I’ve just been reading some discussion booklets that the Armed Forces Education and Rehabilitation Service put out in 1944 (or thereabouts) that show a world long gone – where the machinery of the Government produced documents that were designed to promote understanding and provoke discussion, that treated citizens (or as in this case returning and serving soldiers) as intelligent and inquisitive adults.
One issue of Cue has this introduction:
That the average soldier is taking an increasing interest in his future civic affairs is indicated by the number of discussion groups that do exist in the 2 NZEF. Some are formal groups while others are but impromptu affairs held in hospital wards and such places, but there is no doubt as to their sincerity.
Cue has tried in the past to give leads in this direction through the section entitled ‘What do you think?’ which has suggested possible improvements in the Dominion’s social life.
In this issue there appears an article on democratic government which may, perhaps, give a clearer picture of what might be termed the ‘mechanics’ of government as New Zealanders know it. It should be of some help to those who feel that they will not be content to stand by and let others do all the work of running the community.
In the post-war days to come, everyone will have a definite part to play so that plans that are made for them do not fall to the ground. The keener the interest, the more likelihood that the development of the community for the common good is certain.
Other issues had articles on: Olives; Commercial radio; Wool exports; Plastics; Farming; Kauri; Music; Tax; Fishing; Mediterranean cultures (including the Etruscans).
An issue of Korero (April 1944) had informative articles on: the future of Oceania; Middle Eastern oil; Greece; Buying a business; Quartz mining…
Another series of AEWS Current Affairs Bulletins addressed: Advertising; Trade Unions; Mutual Aid; Stabilisation; Fitness – all in a measured, balanced and intelligent way and all for common consumption…
Where did we go wrong?
We changed, and science changed.
Consider the typical (adult) audience for such pamphlets.
One data point: my grandfather, typically for his generation, left school at 13 to get a job (he then spent most of his career working for a bank). He keenly felt his lack of formal education, and set about educating himself in science, particularly astronomy, which became his consuming hobby. With the aid of a telescope on loan from the Carter Observatory, which he set up in a specially converted shed, he spent decades doing observations of sunspots.
So you have this combination: an intelligent, literate middle class, relatively uneducated, but who value education as the way forward, and seek it out for themselves, at a time when there is still scientific and technological progress to be made by self-trained hobbyists working alone.
Fast forward two generations.
My high school year mostly stayed on to 7th form, and about half of that group went on to some form of tertiary education (still largely free, though that was about to change). So basic scientific understanding changed from something people sought out for themselves, out of interest, to something that was part of the ordinary curriculum (and therefore boring). Meanwhile, the cutting edge of science and technology moved on to a point considerably beyond that curriculum. Doing active research now generally requires expensive equipment, and collaboration among groups with a considerable amount of formal training and standardised special knowledge.
(There still is a place for hobbyists who have developed their own special knowledge in areas such as biological taxonomy – but no paid employment.)
The products of those advances in science and technology, meanwhile, became ordinary commonplaces that ordinary individuals couldn’t hope to understand. I’m not sure exactly when a lack of scientific knowledge – and then, an open distrust of science – became fashionable; but I think it must stem from this disconnect.
News needs science desks, the advancement of science is happening at a rapid pace & we need to have rational discussions on the validity, causality and strength of the science presented. Science is the catalyst of better life styles.
Well done Damian. It is anxiety forming our ability to convince certain sectors of society that science is not a politics.Science is a sloggy constant ritual of testing, watching, watching, testing. Then having your data collection being subject to some hard maths. If that maths shows you significant movements in the subject being observed ,you must report it.
There seems to be a lot of silence, no comments, is it, because people reflect on all this important stuff, or is it that they also know no answers?
Or both? It is a hard question. Especially the question about the level to which scientists should gain power. I have to say I don't think that's a good idea, but in not doing something like that, there is certainly a downside. It's the same downside that democracy as a system faces all round - it's way slow to change, and gets stuff wrong for a long time.
However, the danger on the other side seems to me the greater. The arbitrary power by small cliques, even well meaning cliques, has far more potential to go spectacularly wrong. In going even a little bit wrong, it savagely undermines its own precious status as beacon of truth. It's too much to give any institution control over both truth AND power. Who then would be left to speak truth TO power? We have tried this kind of model before, it's called theocracy. At a time when enough people believe that their religion is a powerful channel to truth, it might seem like a good time to put the religion in charge of society. How quickly that turns to custard, and destroys whatever good that religion might have stood for beforehand. Is there any reason to think that, given such a position, that scientists would not act in the same human way? I don't think it's worth the risk to find out. I like science too much to fuck it up like that.
From Government pressure on scientists not to scare the public by highlighting aftershock risks in Christchurch; attacks on public health scientists such as those outlined in the Dirty Politics leaks; commercial confidentiality; to pressure from the scientists themselves as well as their peers, not to rock the boat, speak outside of their immediate expertise, or risk criticism.
You can also add anything that might hold a pin to the housing bubble, such as PCE reports on coastal properties under threat from rising sea levels:
"But committee chairman Scott Simpson was worried about the impact the report could have.
"My concern both as a member of this committee and as a local constituent MP is that the report has significant potential to have a detrimental financial impact on property owners of coastal property," he said.
Dr Wright replied that rising seas levels would hit coastal property owners in the pocket regardless."
I’m not sure exactly when a lack of scientific knowledge – and then, an open distrust of science – became fashionable; but I think it must stem from this disconnect.
I suspect that scientific evidence that's perceived to have a whiff of threatening the "bach, boat and BMW" way of life has made scientific ignorance fashionable.
I like science too much to fuck it up like that.
Nicely put. Some scientists have a strong social conscience, some don't. While some kind of empowered science commissioner might be marginally useful in dealing with this kind of dodginess, Greenpeace are so far proving more effective than any hypothetical priesthood of ordained scientists.
The ability of scientist to be evil is certainly one problem, but I think there's an even more pernicious problem lurking underneath any merging of science and power. The very nature of science is to question the truth. It's in many ways a fundamentally anarchic system, and shackled by power from any access to the huge resources that modern science needs, if any program is seen as too unorthodox, that really hampers science's own ability to do what it actually does.
This already happens within science as it already is. It's already got its own power structures, it's own orthodoxy. They're already very powerful people. I don't think they need that increased. To me, their power should flow from their rectitude, not from a governmental decree.
The very nature of science is to question the truth. It's in many ways a fundamentally anarchic system...
As a somewhat saintly precision engineer once told me, largely in jest, though with the air of divulging an arcane secret, "Electronics don't actually work you know, they just seem to work."
Science is inherently a method, not an institution. All certainties, even those that may appear the most comforting, only stand until they are eclipsed by greater certainties. There are plenty of examples, such as the young Ernest Rutherford's need for circumspection in presenting his theories to the hidebound physics establishment of his time, that demonstrate how scientific progress can be hampered by an institutionalised establishment.
Especially the question about the level to which scientists should gain power.
I think it was called the Enlightenment.
But more seriously, there are a bunch of sources of unease that have come and gone over time- the Cold War nuclear anxieties, seeing the generalisability of science as linked to globalism, modern suspicion of climate science from the right, from GM from the left.
But I see great hope in open data and reproducible research for a vast strengthening of "evidence based ..." So even if so think the opinions of scientists are as easily bought as lawyers, the weight of knowledge is apparent to all.
We have tried this kind of model before, it's called theocracy.
While I appreciate the point you're trying to make, it's more than a little troubling to directly compare a model where you're literally asked to take everything on faith, with a model where your results ultimately only survive if your peers can't tear them apart.
something that was part of the ordinary curriculum (and therefore boring)
A friend of mine, with a physics PhD, is fond of noting that he managed to retain enough interest in science to get his advanced Uni qualifications, despite the preceding seven years of school science. Part of the problem was that...
Science is inherently a method
Schools tend to teach the result (and expect it to be taken on faith), without explaining the why - the fact that 'science' is essentially a methodology, not a set of results, and the appplication of those results. I had to find out for myself (and about fiftenn years later than I should have), the difference between the scientific and mainstream definitions of 'theory', what a randomised double-blind trial is, and why it's one of the most useful tools ever, and so on.
I like science too much to fuck it up like that.
Try not to take me too literally on that one Ben ;) I just mean that it'd be great if many of our important national decisions were a bit more evidence-based rather than contrary to evidence, or based on ideology. And even if I did think it was a good idea, I wouldn't suggest said wise council of elders be made up *only* of scientists.
This is the kind of supposedly "evidence based" form of "science" the government loves to promote, spread by one Senior Health Advisor working for the government in MSD:
Trying to influence GPs and other health professionals seems quite ok, by using selected scientific reports, written by researchers doing mostly "desk research" on other reports by others, and the report writers themselves admit that more research is needed.
While there may be some truth in what this research presents, it seems rather easy to notice how it is so presented to serve certain ideologically driven politicians and governments who want to "reform" welfare and get people of benefits.
"For six years from 2003, Unum Provident Insurance funded the former DWP Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, who retired from his role at the DWP to become the Director of the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. During that time, Professor Aylward co-authored arguably the most damaging report in the history of British welfare as The Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits which was, effectively, a blueprint for the introduction of the WCA."
For years it was a major insurance company that funded this particular research by Aylward et al at the so-called UNUM Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, but as controversy arose, the name UNUM was swiftly dropped from the Centre's name.
The increasing funding of science by private, vested interest holding funders is stuff to really worry about.
When Minister, Paula Bennett, was full of praise of this kind of research, talking personally with the "advisor" Aylward, Director of that Centre.
"However UK research tells us that many of these people have what shouldbe manageable health problems."
"The focus for people with disabilities and long lasting conditions will be on their barriers to work not just their health, and we’ll be hands on, early on.
This was an important point made by the experts on the Health and Disability panel which I established to review our proposed welfare changes.
It also echoes the UK’s assessment processes and the “Pathways to Work” initiative for vocational rehabilitation designed by Professor Sir Mansel Aylward.
When I sat down with Sir Mansel earlier this year he told me that health conditions account for just 10 to 15 per cent of barriers to work for people on disability benefits.
He said that many health conditions or disabilities can be well managed in work but addressing other barriers are just as important."
"Sir Mansel says that health wise, after six months of unemployment each day off work is as detrimental as smoking 200 cigarettes."
As a result we got major welfare reforms, where many sick and disabled now get reassessed for capacity to work, which some seem to welcome, but is the approach now used much better than what was tried and failed in the UK?
An appointed Health and Disability Panel included vested interest holding members, some running work placement services such as Workwise, who were later rewarded with contracts for trials like Mental Health Employment Services. The senior policy advisor for the Wise Group was on that Panel appointed by Bennett or MSD, same as a former ATOS employee by the name of Dr David Beaumont (running Pathways to Work in Otago). He is now also president of the AFOEM, and was the one who invited Aylward to come here and advise governments and health professionals.
Beaumont is also involved with this outfit:
Just some info worth reading:
With Paula Bennett now in charge of climate change, I wonder what magical solutions she may come up to address those issues?
Are there any scientists left who dismiss the serious challenges and threats we face? She must be out looking for them already, as her boss gave a great example of how things are sorted with scientists:
This was a good interview showing how dodgy Bennett is as Minister:
When Minister, Paula Bennett, was full of praise of this kind of research, talking personally with the “advisor” Aylward, Director of that Centre.
Using that kind of research to inform social policy is a mistake, a very bad mistake.
Its mainly statistics and surveys not bad in themselves just that when they are used in social polic,y which is about people, there is going to be failings. Because people are individual and all will never fit some kind of norm and need to be dealt with as individuals.
To me that is the only way forward in social policy, deal with each individual person not work everyone into a 'one size fits all' legislation and stop fretting about cost. This is not a business, its people!
And yeah I know that is not the way many govts think.
We have tried this kind of model before, it’s called theocracy.
Your thinking of failed models such as most of those in monotheistic cultures and all predate the rise of science by centuries. Not good examples. And examples from Islam are seriously flawed.
To me that is the only way forward in social policy, deal with each individual person not work everyone into a ‘one size fits all’ legislation and stop fretting about cost.
That's basically a policy that says there is no policy. Which works great if you have an omnipotent, benevolent state. But if practice it's likely to lead to corruption and injustice. You need to have some balance between rules/entitlements and exceptions.
I find it interesting to think of MSD and IRD as being two sides of the same coin, and sometimes wonder what IRD would look like if it had the reverse equivalent of special needs grants. "Well, Ms Jones, you made a truckload of money last year running dodgy websites. This is socially irresponsible, and involved relatively little effort on your part, so we're applying a special tax and taking 95% of it"
But if practice it’s likely to lead to corruption and injustice.
If the corruption favours the disenfranchised Great! And Injustice? where did you dig that up from? Injustice to who? Or are you just throwing buzzwords around and making up dodgy examples?
I have a problem with that?
And Injustice? where did you dig that up from? Injustice to who?
An articulate person would likely recieve a greater benefit than a stoic or reclusive person. That's injustice in my book.